Charles Royal

Ngāti Raukawa, Ngati Tamatera, Ngā Puhi

Director of Mauriora-ki-te-Ao / Living Universe Ltd

Kaupapa Māori and Mātauranga Māori Presentation at Waikiki, Honolulu 19 November 2006

Why Methodology?

Because methodology influences everything in the research process – the questions one poses as the foci of research, the way in which knowledge is gathered, the way in which research answers are crafted and outcomes are determined and so on.

Kaupapa Māori and Mātauranga Māori

‘Kaupapa Māori’ is used popularly by Māori in a fairly broad way meaning any particular plan of action created by Māori, expressing Māori aspirations and expressing certain Māori values and principles. There might be a range of purposes for the action taking, however, it is generally held that the design of the proposed action is created by Māori reflecting Māori aspirations, ideals, values and perspectives. It also anticipates tikanga Māori, distinctive Māori ways of doing things, cultural behaviours and so on, through which kaupapa Māori are expressed and made tangible. This type of usage of the terms ‘kaupapa Māori’ appears in education settings, in health providers, upon marae and elsewhere to generally refer to a foundation of understanding and knowledge created by Māori and expressing Māori aspirations, values and principles. Kura Kaupapa Māori is a good example.

This kind of meaning has been popular since the 19th century primarily as a way of distinguishing Māori values, principles and plans for action from those held by non-Māori. In using these terms through history, kaupapa Māori has variously meant either:

  • values and plans of action decided by Māori (emphasis upon who decides what the values and action plans should be)


  • values and action plans which express a set of deeper cultural values and worldview (emphasis upon the values and action plans suggested by traditional knowledge-mātauranga Māori)

On many occasions ‘kaupapa Māori’ is used to advance both ideas. This situation continues today where in some settings ‘kaupapa Māori’ is used as a political tool by Māori to make space for activities and enterprises initiated and controlled by Māori. Similarly, kaupapa Māori is also used to mean values and principles found within mātauranga Māori. These two themes are coming to a new articulation in contemporary thinking.

Since the early 1990s ‘kaupapa Māori’ has taken on a more specific meaning, particularly within the universities[1]. Here ‘kaupapa Māori’ is positioned as a ‘strategy’, a ‘plan of action’ deliberately used within the universities to ‘make space’ for Māori people, culture, knowledge, values and so on. It is a deliberate strategy with a strong political focus. A key aspect of ‘kaupapa Māori’ in this setting is the notion of ‘challenging the privileging of western knowledge in the academy’. Its purpose here is to allow Māori knowledge, culture and experience to ‘find voice’ in the academy and to validate its use in those institutions. Critically, kaupapa Māori is also about transformation. It is concerned with Māori peoples – individuals and communities – achieving cultural, education and social liberation very much in the mode envisaged by the Brazilian education theorist Paolo Friere.

Following this university based approach, therefore, kaupapa Māori methodologies are sequences of knowledge creative actions, events of knowledge inquiry which give expression to these ideals. The goal of kaupapa Māori methodologies is the creation of knowledge which enables the envisaged transformation and liberation to take place. Because of the emphasis upon transformation, a good deal of kaupapa Māori theory is focused upon and is inspired by the contemporary experience of Māori people. This includes experiences of colonisation, urbanisation, deculturation and so on. Kaupapa Māori is focused upon addressing, particularly in education settings, the overcoming of negative statistics and factors of Māori underachievement in education, poor health status and more, through research and theory making.

Graham Hingangaroa Smith, the chief architect of kaupapa Māori theory, states that kaupapa Māori theory is not to be confused with mātauranga Māori. He writes:

‘[kaupapa Māori] is not a study of Mātauranga Māori – Kaupapa Māori theory makes space for Māori to legitimately conduct their own studies of Mātauranga Māori in their own terms and own ways. In this sense Kaupapa Māori is not a synonym for mātauranga Māori which some people (who have obviously not read the existing literature or attended the Hui where this issue has been discussed) have mistakenly asserted. [2]

In and of themselves, the terms ‘Mātauranga Māori’ do not refer explicitly to any particular kind of methodology or a set of explicit goals as is the case with kaupapa Māori theory. Rather, ‘mātauranga Māori’ are modern terms used to refer to a body or a continuum of knowledge with Polynesian origins and which survives to the present day, albeit in fragmentary form. ‘Mātauranga Māori’ are terms which label this body of knowledge. I use the following working definition:

‘Mātauranga Māori’ is a modern term for a body of knowledge that was brought to these islands by Polynesian ancestors of present-day Māori. Here this body of knowledge grew according to life in Aotearoa and Te Wai Pounamu. Despite an initial period of change and growth, the arrival of European populations in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries brought major impacts to the life of this knowledge, endangering it many and substantial ways. All, however, was not lost as new knowledge was created through the encounter with the European and through the experience of the creation of the new nation called New Zealand Important fragments and portions – notably the Māori language - remain today. These fragments and portions are catalysing a new creative period in Māori history and culture and in the life of the New Zealand nation.

A critical difference between kaupapa Māori approaches (within the university meanings cited above) and mātauranga Māori approaches is the absence of an explicit interest in the ethnic category called ‘Māori’ in mātauranga Māori (beyond the appearance of ‘Māori’ in ‘mātauranga Māori’). As mentioned, the terms ‘mātauranga Māori’ do not suggest any actions at all and not in the way that ‘kaupapa Māori’ suggests ‘plan of action’ (see Rev. Māori Marsden’s definition of kaupapa.). In the university derived meaning, there is an explicit emphasis upon taking certain actions as this may contribute to transforming and liberating an ethnically constituted population entitled ‘Māori’.

‘Mātauranga Māori’ on the other hand, are terms used to merely label a body of knowledge. It does not tell us what we might do with this body of knowledge. The key effect of these terms is to ‘frame’ the knowledge in certain ways and it is helpful to consider the ways in which it does this. Firstly, the term mātauranga itself has two meanings. In common parlance it is used broadly to mean ‘knowledge’ and we generally do not use it to mean particular types of knowledge. (Sometimes mātauranga on its own is used to mean ‘mātauranga Māori’.) A less well known and historical meaning of the term mātauranga arises through its association with Biblical knowledge. This meaning, not surprisingly, arose through translations of the Bible and was popularly understood in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The introduction of the Bible into Aotearoa also facilitated the introduction of literacy and ‘education’ into iwi communities. At various points in history, mātauranga has been associated with Biblical knowledge, literacy and education often because these activities were and are deeply connected with one another.

Concerning ‘Māori’, within historical usages (see ‘Māori’ below), ‘Māori’ has not always been used to mean an ethnic category. Other kinds of meanings have been used in history and hence it can not be assumed that ‘mātauranga Māori’ has always been translated to mean knowledge created and maintained by an ethnic people called ‘Māori’. Indeed, this way of labelling the aboriginal inhabitants (for want of a better term) of New Zealand and their descendants is entirely modern and even this way of thinking about the meaning of the word ‘Māori’ is modern. So the ‘frame’ called ‘Māori’ and which appears in the terms ‘mātauranga Māori’ does not always refer to an ethnic group.

As mentioned, ‘mātauranga Māori’ is used to label a body of knowledge. Today, many Māori also use these terms to communicate something essential about the Māori world, something distinctive and valuable. However, the terms themselves do not suggest in any particular action taking. With respect to action taking in the mātauranga Māori tradition, this is expressed in ideas concerning the advancement of mātauranga Māori. Two foundational statements used by Te Whare Wānanga-o-Awanuiārangi and Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa are good examples of statements expressing aspirations and action taking relating to mātauranga Māori. (Similar statements can be found elsewhere such as in ‘Te Aho Matua’ of kura kaupapa Māori). In 1981, the Raukawa Trustees established Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa to fulfill the following purpose:

for the advancement of knowledge and for the dissemination and maintenance of knowledge through teaching and research.[3]

Although the statement does not use the terms ‘mātauranga Māori’ this is what is meant here. Later, Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa adopted the following mission statement:

Kia rangatira te tū a Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa hei whare ako, whakatupu hoki i te mātauranga. The Vision of Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa is to be a greatly expert institution of learning that expands knowledge and disseminates knowledge through teaching and research.[4]

Again, mātauranga Māori is what is meant by ‘mātauranga’ in this statement. Te Whare Wānanga-o-Awanuiārangi uses the following statement which is of relevance to mātauranga Māori:

Whāia te whānuitanga me te hohonutanga o te mātauranga Seek the breadth and depth of knowledge.

Both statements, and others, suggest taking actions to advance mātauranga Māori in various directions and in certain ways. Hence, those wishing to advance mātauranga Māori in certain ways are not so conscious of the transformative and liberation goals set for ‘kaupapa Māori’. Of course, one could argue, as many do, that in advancing mātauranga Māori one is contributing to the transformative and liberation goals of kaupapa Māori and indeed this would be true. However, we can note that those working in mātauranga Māori may not be as conscious of these goals as a person working in ‘kaupapa Māori’ (the university derived meaning). On the whole, those interested in advancing mātauranga Māori study ways in which mātauranga Māori explains aspects of existence such as:

  • Te Tātai Arorangi (night sky)
  • Te Waonui-a-Tāne (forest, birds)
  • Te Tini-a-Tangaroa (sea, oceans)
  • Te Aitanga-a-Punga (amphibious creatures)
  • Te Aitanga-a-Tūtewehiwehi (lizard like creatures)

Users and exponents apply mātauranga Māori within human society and community and researchers study these aspects seeking to advance them in some way:

  • ngā tikanga o te marae
  • whakairo
  • te whare pora
  • te whare tapere
  • karanga

and so on. Additionally, researchers study ways in which mātauranga Māori comes to form its views and perspectives on existence. This entails a study of mātauranga Māori approaches to the creation of knowledge and which ultimately leads the student of mātauranga Māori to wānanga. It is for this reason that I use the terms ‘te wānanga i te mātauranga Māori’ to communicate action taking leading to advancements in mātauranga Māori in various ways.

With respect to methodology within the mātauranga Māori tradition, the term that we can most closely associate with the creation of knowledge (and, hence, with research) is wānanga. This traditional activity was the concern of the whare wānanga whereby students were initiated into areas of learning through various processes. The ultimate test of the student, however, a test by which a student distinguished themselves as a tohunga, concerned the arrival of new knowledge in the mind of the student. (See The Woven Universe: Selected Writings of Rev. Māori Marsden). It is when this takes place that the teachers and elders agree that a person has come into possession of the wānanga. This process of learning and then research entailed much rote learning, experiential learning and finally whakatiki (fasting) and nohopuku (meditation). There is much more to be said here.

Of course, mātauranga Māori can never entirely divorce itself from the ongoing contemporary reality of the cultural paradigm called ‘Māori’ and it will have much to contribute to the transformative goals set for ‘kaupapa Māori’. Hence, the two domains called ‘kaupapa Māori’ and ‘te wānanga i te mātauranga Māori’ are not unrelated and each will have much to gain from the other. I also see these activities as the natural successors to ‘Māori Studies’ which is not necessarily focused upon empowering Māori people or Māori knowledge.

With respect to kaupapa Māori, I see it playing a vitally important role in understanding the historical and contemporary dimensions of power relations in New Zealand society as these relate to Māori. This study is critical to understanding the ‘place’ of Māori in New Zealand society, going forward, and as the basis upon which strategies of empowerment can be designed and implemented. Mātauranga Māori too will make contributions in this domain.

With respect to ‘te wānanga i te mātauranga Māori’, I see its role as a place in which questions relating to being in and encountering the world (alternative to the conventional western model) can be employed. Work in mātauranga Māori is not merely concerned with ethnic pride and cultural revitalisation but its deeper call relates to notions of indigeneity - how we can improve the way in which humankind exists and lives in the world through new strategies of indigeneity, rekindling kinship between people and between people and the natural world. Kaupapa Māori too will make significant contributions in this direction.

Some notes on ‘Māori’

‘Māori’ is a term that possesses various historical meanings that are not well understood today. Today, Māori is primarily used as an ethnic category, used to label contemporary descendants of aboriginal inhabitants of Aotearoa at the time of arrival of Europeans to this country. There is much to be said about ‘Māori’ as an ethnicity (and as a culture) and we do not have space to explore this in detail here. Let us note the widespread use of ‘Māori’ as an ethnic and cultural category. However, Māori has not always had this kind of meaning.

An alternative meaning of ‘māori’ is ‘pure’ and ‘natural’ such as in waimāori which is pure, fresh water. In this sense, māori communicates ideas of clarity, transparency and cleansing. The word ‘whakamāori’ means ‘to make clear’ and hence to explain. It is possible that this sense of ‘purity’ and ‘natural’ are employed in Te Paipera Tapu within the famous passage concerning Christ’s walking upon water. The translation reads:

I haere maori a Ihu i runga i te kare o nga wai

An additional meaning is communicated by Hoani Nahe of Ngāti Maru who argues that the concept of ‘tangata Māori’ did not arise through encounter with the European but rather through the encounter between people of Hawaiki and the patupaiarehe people who were already living on these islands.

Nō reira i tino mōhiotia ai, ko ngā iwi atua nei ko Patupaiarehe, ehara i te tangata Māori. Nō reira mai rā anō ka takoto wehe mai ēnei ingoa iwi e rua, a Patupaiarehe me tangata Māori. [5]

Nahe quotes a saying in which the difference between ‘tangata Māori’ and patupaiarahe is made clear:

E hara i te tangata Māori, he atua, he Patupaiarehe, Tūrehu, Kōrakorako.

Nahe tells us that “he kupu tawhito tonu anō a ‘Māori’ nō mua noa atu i te Pākehā nei…” and quotes a further saying which says:

Ehara i te tangata Māori, he atua. Ehara hoki i te atua, he tangata Māori nei anō.

In this usage, ‘Maori’ is used to mean ‘mortal’ perhaps as opposed to ‘atua’.

[1] I need to say that I am not trained in ‘kaupapa Maori theory’ and hence my authority to speak for it is somewhat limited.

[2] See ‘Kaupapa Maori Theory: Theorizing Indigenous Transformation of Education and Schooling’. ‘Kaupapa Maori Symposium’, NZARE / AARE Joint Conference, Hyatt Hotel, Auckland, December 2003

[3] Maramataka 1999, Te Wananga-o-Raukawa 1999

[4] Maramataka 2000, Te Wananga-o-Raukawa 2000

[5] Quotes taken from ‘Maori, Tangata Maori’ by Hoani Nahe, Journal of the Polynesian Society, Volume 3, 1894, pp. 27-35